Tag Archives: conversion

Dealing with the Heresy Hunters

Saul understood the disciples of Yeshua as a dangerous sect of Judaism that needed to be silenced before it spread any further. In Saul’s day Judaism contained a variety of sectarian movements. The word “sect” translates the Greek word “hairesis.” It is the same word for “choice,” or “opinion.” Over time, as Christianity battled against the deviant hairesis of Gnosticism, the meaning of the word evolved into the new concept of “heresy.” In the days of the apostles, however, the word primarily referred to a faction of thought and practice within a larger group. For example, the book of Acts refers to the “sect of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17) and the “sect of the Pharisees” (Acts 15:5), which was “the strictest sect of [the Jews’] religion” (Acts 26:5 NASB). It also refers to the disciples of Yeshua as the “sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus used the word hairesis to describe “schools of thought” within the Jewish people: Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. In Josephus’ writings the word hairesis only means a faction within the broader religion of Judaism. It does not imply heresy.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
from “Damascus Road Encounter,” pp.15-16
Messiah Magazine issue 8, Winter 2015/5775

I find I can’t read Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles” anymore without thinking about the church I used to attend and the reasons I left. The head Pastor during the two years I attended, was working his way through the Book of Acts in his sermon series, preaching on it verse by verse.

During the first year I was at this church, I was studying Lancaster’s Torah Club Volume 6: “Chronicles of the Apostles,” which is a detailed analysis of Acts from a Messianic Jewish point of view (based on the theology and doctrine espoused by First Fruits of Zion). Between Pastor’s weekly sermons and my Torah Club studies, I became very familiar with Acts, perhaps more so than any other single book in the Bible. So now, when I read Acts, I think both of Pastor’s sermons and of Lancaster’s teachings.

FFOZ’s Messiah Magazine is a less “scholarly” publication compared to Messiah Journal and is written, in my opinion, for people with a more traditional Christian mindset who are interested in what I call “Messianic Judaism 101.”

That’s not a bad thing. When encountering Messianic Judaism for the first time, it’s helpful to have an elementary point of entry that speaks to someone not familiar with that perspective. I guess I’ve been studying too long to be challenged by entry-level material.

But I found myself wishing this (Sunday) morning that I could share Lancaster’s article with the folks at the Sunday School class I used to attend. It’s a vain hope. For two years, I tried to make a positive impression on the class regarding Messianic Jewish thought and perspective on the Bible, and while some people found some of what I said compelling, ultimately, for two years, I was spinning my wheels. Paradigms are not easily shifted, and sometimes they are so cemented into place, that it becomes all but impossible (at least for human beings) to shift them perceptibly. Any doctrine outside of what is taught by the local church is considered heresy.

Which brings me to the quote from Lancaster’s article.

We experience now, as did the Jewish people in the days of Saul/Paul, a number of different “sects,” both within Christianity and Judaism. If we take all this within the context of the original meaning of the word “hairesis,” then we can consider the different denominations of Christianity and the different branches of Judaism as different factions, or schools of thought and practice, within their broader respective religions.

But where does that leave modern Messianic Judaism and her (somewhat) parallel sister movement Hebrew Roots? Can we consider them two different “sects,” and valid “schools of thought and practice” within a larger religious context?

I’ve been following a number of different blogs over the past week or so and monitoring a series of “differences of opinion” (to put it mildly in some cases) that would seem to belie that thought.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

For instance, on Derek Leman’s Messianic Jewish Musings, there is a lively debate between Messianic Jews (and Gentiles) and an Orthodox Jewish person about the validity of Christianity as a religion, including Messianic Judaism, which this fellow (Hi, Gene) believes to be a subset of Christianity rather than a “school of thought” within Judaism.

Pete Rambo issued a rather provocative challenge on his blog by “offering a $10,000 reward to the person who can prove unequivocally, from Scripture alone, that God changed the Sabbath day from Saturday, the seventh day, to Sunday the first day.” Naturally, a “spirited debate” ensued, although there only seems to be one person attempting to “collect the reward.”

And then, on Peter Vest’s blog, he proposes the interesting idea that the later Rabbis of the Talmud rejected what Peter believes was the “One Law” teachings of the Second Temple era Rabbis. There’s no particular argument going on in the comments section of that blog (yet), but it nevertheless presents another variant opinion on what the Bible teaches us about Jewish and Gentile interactions in the first-century Jewish “stream of thought” of “the Way.”

I must say that adherents to these various “sects,” in these blog discussions, can express quite a bit of “passion” in defending their particular opinions, but sometimes it (seemingly) goes beyond that.

I haven’t watched the YouTube video yet (and I probably never will), but according to Peter on his blog, a couple of gentlemen in some sort of One Law radio talk show outright said that Peter was a “liar” relative to his statements about Judaism and the validity of the Oral Torah.

Now I can’t state strongly enough that I haven’t watched the video and so I don’t directly know what was or wasn’t said. I do know that it’s not unheard of to misinterpret someone’s opinion of you, especially if that opinion is at all critical. I don’t know what the people Peter mentions said or didn’t say, so what I’m writing here isn’t a matter of taking sides or calling anyone out.

However, if we, for the moment, accept Peter’s allegations at face value, then we have encountered a problem. All of us in our various “sects” of Christianity, Judaism, or whatever, actually have the same core goal: drawing nearer to God. However, each of us within our own specific “streams of thought” imagine the details of just how to accomplish that task rather differently. And yet, in spite of the fact that we know there have been multiple differing “streams of thought and practice” about the Bible and God for well over two-thousand years, significantly predating the existence of anything called “Christianity,” we still insist that whatever religious stream in which we find ourselves is the only one with “the truth.”

Everyone else is wrong and we have a duty and obligation to go online and, by golly, prove it.

It is one thing to disagree with someone else, to believe their particular interpretation of the Bible is in error, that the person is (Heaven forbid) wrong, mislead, or even deluded. It’s another thing entirely to believe another person’s difference of opinion indicates that the individual is a willful liar. I hope that’s not what’s going on here, because it would be a sad commentary on two people who are professed disciples of Yeshua (Jesus),  but as I said, I don’t really know.

And that brings us back to Lancaster’s article and “Saul, the Heresy Hunter” (I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Christian teaching emphasizes the story of the conversion of Saul the Jew, a persecutor of the early church, into Paul the Christian, as a pattern for Jewish believers to follow. Just as Saul renounced Judaism and even changed his name to Paul, so too, Jewish believers should renounce their old allegiances and embrace their new identity in Christ. A careful reading of the story of Saul’s Damascus road encounter, however, does not indicate a conversion from Judaism to Christianity, nor does it indicate a change in name from Saul to Paul.

-Lancaster, p.15

You’ll have to read Lancaster’s full article (only four pages long) to see how he defends his opinion (successfully from my point of view), but it indicates a couple of things. First, that Saul was wrong about his persecution of the Jewish members of “the Way,” and that he was rather dramatically forced to face his mistakes by an encounter with the Master of that movement, Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. Second, we discover that (in my opinion and Lancaster’s) Christian interpretive tradition is wrong about what happened to Saul, what sort of “conversion” he underwent, and why he had two names.

Saul did undergo a radical transformation of the heart, soul, and mind. One might say that he experienced a spiritual conversion — something the Master called being “born again.” His life would never be the same. Compared with the “surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua,” Saul counted all his prestigious heritage and achievements in Judaism as mere rubbish (Philippians 3:8 NASB). Yet that change in priority did not indicate a change in religious affiliation. Saul encountered the Messiah on the way to Damascus, but he did not abandon his Jewish identity or his loyalty to the Torah, the Jewish people, or Jewish practice.

-ibid, p.18

The Jewish PaulIf I said something like that in at least some churches, I would likely encounter strong and passionate counter arguments that anything “Jewish” did not survive in Paul after his Acts 9 encounter with Jesus. Nevertheless, that’s how I (and Lancaster, and many others) read the life of Paul in the Apostolic Scriptures.

So as we’ve seen, there have been multiple sects of Judaism that predated the earthly ministry of Jesus by quite a bit, and there have been multiple sects of Christianity from pretty much the point when the term was first used.

What do we do about that, especially in the volatile environment of the religious blogosphere?

View people you are likely to quarrel with as your partners in personal growth. They are likely to make you more aware of your vulnerabilities, limitations, and mistakes. Don’t let this get you down. Rather, let it serve as your coach. You now have more awareness of what you need to strengthen, fix, and keep on developing.

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: Harmony with Others, p.36, http://www.artscroll.com)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from Daily Lift #236: “My Partner in Personal Growth”
Aish.com

If you’re religious in any sense of the word (I know that some Christians say their faith is a “relationship, not a religion” but go with me on this one) then other people are going to disagree with you. Get used to it. If you are going to discuss your religious beliefs on a blog and allow others to comment on your blog, people will comment and some will disagree with you. Others will write their own blog posts disagreeing with you, sometimes in the most caustic and “unChristian” like manner.

If we are to believe what Rabbi Pliskin says, all of our opponents are our partners in personal growth. Without them, we might never discover weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and limitations in our own character as well as our knowledge. They force us to constantly stretch ourselves so that we will be more aware of our strengths and deficits tomorrow than we are today. As one motivational statement I’ve seen at my gym says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (NASB)

It seems that Rav Shaul (otherwise known as Paul the Apostle) and Rabbi Pliskin agree on something.

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Passover, Messianic Judaism, and Mutual Inclusiveness

Jewish wealth is not houses and gold. The everlasting Jewish wealth is: Being Jews who keep Torah and Mitzvot, and bringing into the world children and grandchildren who keep Torah and Mitzvot.

-from “Today’s Day” for Nissan 9 5703
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943) from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
Chabad.org

“The older I get, the more I realize how different it is to be a Jew in a Jewish place as opposed to a Jew in a non-Jewish place. It’s definitely a different feeling in terms of how freely you can be yourself and celebrate your culture and religion.”

-Natalie Portman

I have tried to pull back from my formerly self-imposed obligation of writing and posting a “morning meditation” each day (except for Shabbos). I typically plan to write only one or two blog posts each week. But I realize that, perhaps below the level of conscious thought, I’m actually leaving room in my schedule for those things I write spontaneously when I come across a compelling topic…

…like Jewish identity.

Jewish identity and the approach of Pesach (Passover). What do they have in common besides the obvious?

Our Sages assert that the Israelites in Egypt were on the lowest level of spiritual impurity. They worshipped idols. They were debauched and dissolute. So how did they merit the grand and miraculous redemption?

They had only three things going for them: They kept their Hebrew names, their Hebrew language, and their distinctive Hebrew dress. In other words, they retained their Jewish identity.

Wait a second! Didn’t you cringe when you found out that the biggest Ponzi scheme in history had been perpetuated by someone with a distinctly Jewish name? Wouldn’t we have preferred that instead of retaining his Jewish identity he had changed his name to Christopher Johnson?

What is the redemptive value of Jewish identity?

-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“Jewish Identity: Are You In or Out?”
Aish.com

In Christianity, one is redeemed by God due to faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not who we are, for Christ accepts everyone, regardless of heritage, background, nationality, language, walk of life, and so on. You aren’t saved by who you are but by what you believe, almost regardless of what you do about it (though to be fair, I know Christians who expect believers to live a transformed life in response to their faith).

But what Sara Yoheved Rigler is suggesting, is that Jews are redeemed by who they are, particularly in their outward appearance. What redeemed the ancient Israelites (according to the Sages) is that, regardless of worshiping idols and being enslaved, they retained an obvious Jewish identity.

Seems crazy, huh?

But according to Ms. Rigler, this isn’t just an issue for the Jews of antiquity, but it is a critical question for modern Judaism.

The question assumes particular importance in our generation. Indeed, the rates of adultery, domestic violence, addiction to drugs and porn, and murder for reasons as trifling as being cut off in traffic have skyrocketed in this generation. An objective look at our moral standing would produce a grim assessment.

Judaism promulgates a teleological worldview – that history is moving toward a specific goal, namely, the Redemption, or the Messianic era. So how can a generation as dissolute as ours be redeemed?

jewish-davening-by-waterI’ve written before about the necessity of a Jewish community for Messianic Jews and that one of the critical purposes of Jewish community for Jews in Messiah is to prevent them from being cut off from the world-wide community of Jews. But no matter how much or how well I think I’ve made my point, it’s one that is difficult for many others, including some Messianic Jews, to accept.

What many people read and hear is that I’m replacing Messiah with Judaism, as if Messiah and Judaism are mutually exclusive terms. Certainly the Chabad don’t think that, although they’d certainly disagree with me about the identity, function, and to a degree, purpose of the Messiah. On the other hand, they certainly expect him to arrive and don’t consider the desire for the coming of Messiah to eliminate their Jewish identity.

So where do we get the idea that Jews must stop being Jewish and stop having community with other Jews when they come to faith in Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah?

From Christianity and Judaism, historically.

For nearly two-thousand years, any Jew who has realized that Jesus (Yeshua) is indeed the Messiah and desired to worship him and honor him has been required, by the Church (in its many and various forms) to renounce Jewish identity and Jewish practices and convert to (Gentile) Christianity. In its darkest days, the Church has resorted to various sanctions, torture, and even the threat of death to “convert” Jews to Christians. For Christianity, being Jewish and being a Christian are mutually exclusive terms.

To be fair, this is also considered true by most Jewish people. I’ve heard stories that in Orthodox Judaism, a friend or family member is mourned as if they died if they should become a Christian (I don’t know how true this is but I can see the point). Messianic Jews, that is, halachically Jewish people who come to faith in Yeshua as Messiah and yet retain their Jewish identity, continue to perform the mitzvot, and in all other ways, live a completely consistent Jewish life are still thought of as “Jews for Jesus” and tend to be shunned by secular and religious Jews alike.

In the Fall 2013 issue of Messiah Journal, Rabbi Stuart Dauermann wrote an impassioned plea that all Jews in Messiah must consider the Jewish people as Us, not Them, meaning that faith in Messiah should not and must not stand in between a Jew and all other Jews.

And many centuries ago, another Jew made a similar plea:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5 (NASB)

The Jewish PaulIn his faith in Messiah, Paul did not see himself as separated from the larger Jewish world or from other religious streams of Judaism. In fact, his love for his fellow (unbelieving) Jews was so great that he would have willingly become accursed and separated from the Messiah for the sake of other Jewish people, that they might see and accept Messiah as Paul did.

For Paul, the Jewish people, all of them, were “us” not “them.” Jewish identity and faith in Messiah were never at odds for Paul. Faith in Messiah was the natural extension of his being a ”Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee…as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). It’s thought by many Christians that Paul was talking about his past, before “conversion,” since he mentioned his persecuting the church, yet he was speaking in the present tense when he said:

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.

Acts 22:3 (NASB)

”Being zealous for God just as you all are today.” Paul was talking to a crowd of Jewish people. True, they were calling for his death, but that wasn’t because Paul surrendered his Jewish identity and was encouraging other Jews to do likewise, as the false allegations suggested. He remained a devout and faithful Jew and zealous for the Torah. His only “crime” was his fervent desire to also include Gentiles among the community of the redeemed.

Maimonides, in his code of Jewish Law, makes a startling pronouncement. He writes that a Jew who lives in isolation from the Jewish community, even if he keeps all the commandments, is considered a kofer b’ikar, a heretic. The implication is that identifying with the Jewish community is a basic value that underlies all the commandments.

Living among so many Gentiles for so much of his life must have taken a toll on Paul. I don’t know if the concept of kofer b’ikar existed in first century Judaism, but if it did, it may have been another reason the Jewish crowds in Acts 21-22 were so angry at Paul. He was a Jew who, because of his unique mission as an emissary to the Gentiles, didn’t spend a great deal of time in Jewish community. Yes, he went first to the Jew and then also to the Greek, but by the end of his third missionary journey, many Jewish communities in the diaspora were incensed with Paul because of the issue of the Gentiles.

This is a huge issue in Messianic Judaism today. This is one of the vital reasons why Messianic Jews must consider themselves as part of a larger Jewish community, not just a Messianic Jewish synagogue, but the overarching world of Jewry and affiliation and allegiance to national Israel. Even if a Messianic Jew is scrupulous in observing the Torah and faultless in performance of the mitzvot, outside of Jewish community, or more to the point, buried neck-deep in a community of Gentile believers, whether Messianic Gentiles or Evangelical Christians, the very real threat of kofer b’ikar and kareth exists.

Sara Yocheved Rigler
Sara Yocheved Rigler

I’m not suggesting that all Messianic Jews abandon their relationship with non-Jewish believers or stop associating with non-Jews in Messianic Jewish religious spaces, but first and foremost, a Messianic Jew must continually grasp tightly to the fact that he or she is a Jew and part of the Jewish people, all of them, everywhere.

In her article, Ms. Rigler goes on to describe the different critical points in history when Jews could and often did renounce their Jewish identity through forced or voluntary conversion to Christianity or to blend in with American culture when emigrating to this country.

That’s why alarm bells rang a couple years ago when a study revealed that 50% of American Jews under the age of 35 would not consider it “a personal tragedy if the State of Israel ceased to exist.” Two months ago an American Congresswoman declared that the Jews of America had sold out Israel in their support of Obama’s diplomatic surrender to Iran’s nuclear program.

Today, the community of Jews in the diaspora and particularly in western nations, could easily be extinguished through assimilation. I don’t believe that’s what God wants but I do believe it’s what most Christians want as long as said-assimilated Jews assimilated into the Church.

But unlike why I, or rather Ms. Rigler said above, it’s not just about appearing Jewish:

Let’s be clear here. God wants the maximum from us Jews: love your neighbor as yourself; keep Shabbos; don’t speak lashon hara; keep kosher – the whole nine yards. But the minimum requirement to be redeemed is to identify as a Jew.

Jewish identity is where you start, not where you finish. Particularly for Jews in Messiah, it must be abundantly clear to all other Jews as well as to everyone else, that the Jewish person in Messiah is Jewish. That’s why it’s (in my opinion) not optional for a Jew in Messiah to observe the mitzvot. While the minimum requirement to identify as a Jew is good, it is much better to go the whole nine yards, so to speak, and to live a life indistinguishable from other religious Jews, regardless if the standard of observance is Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform.

Jewish identity is what prompted Kirk Douglas to fast every Yom Kippur. As he proudly stated, “I might be making a film, but I fasted.”

Jewish identity is what prompted Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to post a large silver mezuzah on the doorpost of her Supreme Court chambers.

Jewish identity is what prompted movie star Scarlet Johansson to stand up for Israel at the cost of her prestige as an Oxfam ambassador.

schiffman
R. Michael Schiffman

This morning, Rabbi Michael Schiffman, who grew up in Jericho, NY in a traditional Jewish family, wrote a simple and heartwarming blog post called Finding Yeshua. No, being a Jewish believer and living a life consistent with Judaism, Jewish identity, and affiliation with Jewish community does not replace or reduce Messiah. It simply puts everything in perspective.

Ms. Rigler ends her article this way:

The Passover Seder speaks about four sons. Only one of them is cast as “wicked.” As the Hagaddah states: “The wicked son, what does he say? ‘What is this service to you?’ ‘To you,’ but not to him. Because he excludes himself from the community, he is a heretic. … Say to him, ‘Because of what God did for me when I went out of Egypt.’ For me, but not for him, because if he would have been there, he would not have been redeemed.”

The first Passover marked the birth of the Jewish nation. Every Passover since poses the challenge to every Jew: Are you in or are you out?

If you are Jewish and you are a believer, how do you answer this question? Since I’m not Jewish, it’s not a question directed at me, but as a Messianic Gentile, I believe it is my duty to encourage believing Jews to answer “in.”

The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah

Soon after, Minister Flores made the decision to convert to Judaism. But he struggled to find a way to tell us, as he didn’t want to tear down Christianity without being able to offer us an alternative. So he kept teaching Torah, but in a way that was as subtle as possible. He gradually peeled away the things that were wrong and got us closer to Torah. Our church started replacing Jesus’ name with Jewish, Hebrew names of God, and the songs became Hebrew songs. We began to incorporate real Jewish traditions into our festivals, and we even got a Torah scroll for the church.

At that point we resembled more of a Jews for Jesus group, in the sense that we were Christians with a lot of Jewish traditions. The difference, of course, was that we were moving in the direction toward authentic Judaism, not the other way around.

-Yosef Juarez
“The Torah in Our Church”
Aish.com

Ever since I published Nanos, Paul, and the Consequences of Jewish Identity in Messiah as well as witnessed/participated in the subsequent online discussion, I’ve spent a great deal of time pondering the idea of exactly how the early non-Jewish disciples of the Messiah entered into what was originally a wholly Jewish religious stream. Up to the time of Paul, the only way for a non-Jew to formally enter into any form of religious Judaism was to convert via the proselyte process and become “a Jew by choice,” to use the modern parlance.

In the aforementioned blog post inspired by an article written by New Testament scholar and historian Mark Nanos, one blog commenter asked (tongue-in-cheek):

Then what were gentiles converting to? Christianity?

No, of course not. Christianity, as we understand it today, did not exist when Paul walked the earth. But the Gentiles were not converting to Judaism either…well, not exactly.

Or were they?

No, I’m not suggesting that the early Gentile believers actually converted to Judaism and took on all of the obligations and identity markers of their Jewish mentors, but they did join “the Way” as fully equal co-participants in Yeshua-faith with the Jewish disciples.

But how can you convert to Judaism and not be a Jew?

It gets complicated from here on in, but that’s the mystery we struggle with twenty centuries later as we look through the lens of scripture, history, archeology, and any other tool at our disposal, and try to apprehend not only the intent of Paul and the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem, but of Messiah and God the Father.

That Gentiles were always intended to be reconciled with the Creator and to worship the One God alongside Israel is a foregone conclusion based on many of the Messianic prophesies chronicled in the Tanakh (Old Testament), but exactly how it was to happen is still somewhat hidden in the shadows of time.

Well, maybe.

The only conclusion I can come to with my present understanding of Paul is that he did “convert” non-Jews into a Jewish religious space, not by the proselyte rites, or as “guests” in the manner of the God-fearers, but into a life within Judaism specifically developed for Gentiles in Messiah, and lived out as non-Jewish co-participants, equal in the blessings of reconciliation, justification, and salvation, but not identical to Jewish participants in identity or responsibility.

Not that the Gentiles didn’t have responsibilities. We can start to see the skeleton of their (our) duties in the apostolic decrees (see Acts 15) and fleshed out just a bit more in many of Paul’s letters.

I wrote a number of detailed reviews of the Nanos book The Mystery of Romans including this one that described a sort of mutual dependency Paul characterized between the believing Gentiles and believing and non-believing Jews in Rome.

For the believing Gentiles, their duties to their Jewish hosts did not end at complying with principles designed to avoid offending Jewish sensitivities and facilitating fellowship, but also included provoking jealousy by showing themselves to be the first fruits of the prophecies of the Tanakh that speak of Gentiles “taking hold” of Jews, and going up to the House of the Lord, the House of Prayer, with the devout Jewish people in order to worship the God of Jacob.

That would mean separating from their former lifestyle, from paganism, and in most cases from family, leaving civic cult practice to honor God within the context of a Jewish worship designed for Gentile identity and legal status, but remaining non-Jews in order to clearly show themselves to be the fulfillment of prophesy rather than proselytes or some form of “pseudo-proselytes”.

Mark NanosIn my previous blog post, I characterized Nanos’ opinion on Paul relative to Gentile conversion to Judaism within the framework of “the Way” as being firmly against such a proselyte conversion, but subsequent reading has brought up some questions. It’s very possible Paul was convinced that the Messianic return was only decades away and as such, he felt there just wasn’t time to do anything but spread the gospel message to the rest of the known world as quickly as possible. He may have thought that issues of conversion or even marital status (1 Corinthians 7:8 for example) were of a lesser priority than the imminent return of the Moshiach, so there was no need to develop rulings that would cover the requirements of later generations of Gentile believers.

However, history as shown us that the window for Messiah’s return is a rather lengthy corridor and we still have yet to reach the end. That being said, and keeping a Jewish perspective in mind, since Judaism is adaptive and halachah is continually or at least periodically in a state of development, is the issue of Gentile conversion to Judaism within the modern Messianic Jewish movement something that is, while Paul may not have pre-supposed it, nevertheless completely valid in the present, given the requirements of Jewish and non-Jewish disciples within the context of a Jewish faith in Yeshua the Messiah some two-thousand years down the road?

That question (and it was a long one) might not make sense to Christians who state they observe the “commandments” of the New Testament as a closed canon and an unchangeable decree, but that actually isn’t the case. While Christians sometimes criticize the various modern streams of Judaism for maintaining a quasi-open canon via the Talmudic rulings of the Rabbinic sages, in reality, the Protestant church in all its incarnations, more closely follows a 16th century (and even later) set of interpretations of the New Testament, rather than the original, apostolic understandings and teachings of the people who participated in spreading the good news from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and to the diaspora nations of the first century of the common era.

Both Christianity and Judaism have their own methods of keeping one foot firmly rooted in the Bible and the other one wandering up and down the passageways of time.

This idea of how Paul, James, and the apostles of the council conceptualized the role of Gentiles in their Jewish religious world has profound implications, not only on how we read and understand the New Testament, but how we view the role of the Church today, as well as modern Christian/Jewish relations.

We may have it all wrong when we think of the exact mechanism by which Gentiles entered “the Way,” and that, in a sense, they were not “converted” to Judaism or became citizens of Israel (and thus “Israelites” as opposed to “Jews”), but entered a unique legal status that at once made them equal relative to certain covenantal blessings without being identical, for the sake of fulfilling Messianic promises, to the Jewish people in identity and obligation, but still actually practicing Judaism as a way of life specifically crafted for the Gentiles by legal decree and the will of the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard it said that the short definition of a Jew is one who has rejected idolatry (obviously the long definition contains a lot more details). In that manner, while we can’t count the Gentiles in Messiah as Jews, they (we) are practicing a form of Judaism styled for them (us), at least within the ancient “Way” and in modern Messianic Judaism.

Although Christianity and Judaism (in all their various flavors) have described quite different trajectories across history, it is foolish to imagine that One God and a returning Messiah King will allow such a state to remain as we have constructed it, through it’s within the realm of possibility (considering the beginning verses of Matthew 23), that Messiah may allow a certain amount “halachah” to remain in place based on his giving the apostles the authority to make binding rulings in his name (assuming any of that trickled down to the Christian or Messianic movements of today as we imagine it has in parallel process to the modern, normative Judaisms).

Prophesy states that Messiah will return all of the Jewish exiles to their Land and their place, but it may be that he will also return the Gentile disciples to an understanding of who we are and where our duties lie in relation to the King of Israel, the nation of Israel, and the Jewish people.

I have a lot more reading to do in order to more completely explore this concept, but it’s heading in a direction I’ve been approaching for a while now.

jewish-traditionI think there are a number of Christians and Christian groups who are feeling the pull of prophesy, but in most cases, such as in the above-quoted article written by Yosef Juarez, there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. Messiah never meant for us to believe that we had to choose between him and our devotion to Jewish people and Israel, rather he desires that we arrive at a proper understanding of our role in relation to Israel and her King, where King and Country are not mutually exclusive as most people believe is true of Jesus and Israel.

While we don’t see entire church groups converting to Judaism en masse very often (as Yosef Juarez describes in his article), we do see Gentile Christians entering into Hebrew Roots congregations and attempting to fulfill their roles (mistakenly in my opinion) by apprehending Jewish identity rather than their (our) own, or even more tragically, Gentiles in Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism leaving Messiah Yeshua behind and converting to one of the modern Judaisms of our day.

There are few things sadder than seeing a Christian begin to develop a sincere love of Israel and the Jewish people and then to allow misunderstanding and a misguided sense of purpose to cause them to completely overshoot the target, missing the point and mistaking the background for the goal.

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

Troy Mitchell

It may not be entirely inappropriate to consider, under certain specific circumstances, Gentile conversion to Judaism within a Messianic Jewish venue, but again, in my opinion, this should be a rare occasion. Gentiles will never be able to take their (our) place in God’s Kingdom as the crowning jewels of the nations if we convert or quasi-convert to Judaism in significant numbers. To be “crowning jewels” we must remain among “the nations” or fail prophesy, Messiah, and God.

Conversion At Any Cost?

tomas-de-torquemadaIn 1483, Tomas de Torquemada was appointed as “Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.” Jews of Spain had been forced to convert to Christianity, and the Inquisition was designed to uncover those who were continuing to practice their Judaism in secret (called Conversos or Marranos). Those who never confessed were burned at the stake; those who did confess were strangled first. Torquemada believed that as long as the Jews remained in Spain, they might influence the tens of thousands of Jews who had converted to Christianity. It was on his recommendation that the remainder of the Jewish community — 200,000 people — was expelled from Spain in 1492. An estimated 32,000 were burned at the stake, and Torquemada’s name became a byword for cruelty and fanaticism in the service of religion. The order of expulsion was not officially voided by the government of Spain until 1968.

Today in Jewish History
Cheshvan 4
Aish.com

This will be short but not sweet. There are some Christians who say that it was a sin for Jews to refuse to convert to Christianity across the last two-thousand years of history. Yes, these are Christians living today in my little corner of the world. I’ve brought this issue up to them. Is it right for Christians to torture Jews into “conversion?”

They say the torture part was wrong, but that the Jews should have studied scripture and discovered the truth of Jesus for themselves. I’m also told that Christians who resorted to torturing Jews in order to gain their conversions were not “true Christians.”

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, they represented the normative Church of their day and as far as I can tell, there were no opposing bodies in the Church crying out against the torture and murder of the Jewish people.

I think forcing anyone to convert to Christianity on pain of torture and death is wrong. Period. I don’t think such conversions would be valid in any case. You can torture a person’s body and you can make them speak the words, you can even make someone afraid to think thoughts of refusing Christianity, but you can’t control the spirit, and God knows the truth.

And yet, there are Christians today that say that the Jews under Tomas de Torquemada and those like him should have converted when requested to. I disagree. I think men such as this one are reprehensible villains and should be reviled. The only reason to keep their names in our history books is so that their bad example will never be repeated. I think the Jewish people who resisted this monster are heroes and the ones who “converted” should be pitied.

If any person, Jewish or Gentile, of their own free will, chooses to accept Jesus as the Messiah, that’s between them and God. The minute a so-called “Christian” takes up any manner of coercion against another human being to trick or force them to convert, both that “Christian” and their victim lose.

If Paul Had Circumcised Gentiles

under-law-torahWe are Torah Submissive, meaning that we try to obey to the divine instructions revealed in the Pentateuch. We recommend Torah observance for Christians (= believers in Messiah Yeshua) as the proper way of sanctification of their lifestyle. We do not believe however that eternal salvation is merited or gained by performing specific commandments. In other words, we are not legalists.

-from the Doctrinal Position page
at Messianic613’s Weblog

I once read a comment written by the author of the above-quoted statement on someone else’s blog saying that a “One Law” position seemed the most likely consequence of the requirement to integrate Gentiles into the first century Jewish movement called “the Way.” This was based on that author’s personal understanding of the New Testament record and the Bible as a whole.

I wish I could find the original comment but it’s lost in the vast wasteland of the blogosphere and I wouldn’t know how to retrieve it. Still, I hate not being able to adequately cite my source when crafting a response. (I also want to say at this point, that although I don’t agree with all of said-author’s opinions, I find this person to be intelligent and reasonable in all comments and rebuttals.)

Given all that, I found myself wondering this morning what was the easiest thing for Paul to do as Christ’s (Messiah’s) chosen emissary to the Gentiles. In the Book of Acts, Luke records in the first six or seven chapters how “the Way” was being established in Jerusalem and Judea. The Spirit was given to the Apostles in Acts 2:1-4 and afterward, Peter spoke boldly for the Messiah. Many Jews in Jerusalem, both native and visiting from the diaspora for Shavuot, became disciples (Acts 2:37-42). Peter began teaching at Solomon’s Portico (starting at Acts 3:11), the early Messianic community among the Jews was formed (starting at Acts 4:32), and in spite of persecution from the ruling Jewish authorities, the Messianic disciples did not cease in their work (Acts 5:41-42).

Acts 8 shows us how the gospel message of the Messiah began to spread out from Jerusalem and Judea, extending into other parts of Israel and into Samaria. Philip encounters the Ethiopian Eunuch (a study unto itself) which results in that message being taken south, at least to the descendants of those Jews who journeyed to that land in the time of Solomon. But God had further plans for the good news of Messiah than to have it shared only with Jews and Samaritans.

The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Acts 9:11-16 (NRSV)

Saul (Paul), the persecutor of Jewish disciples of “the Way” was chosen specifically by Messiah as his instrument to take the name of Messiah before the Gentiles as well as before kings and the people of Israel.

But what did it mean to take the name of Messiah before the Gentiles?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves (emph. mine).

Matthew 23:15 (NRSV)

When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God (emph. mine).

Acts 13:43 (NRSV)

These two, quick quotes tell us that it wasn’t particularly unusual for non-Jews to convert to sects of Judaism. We also know from Acts 10:1-2 and Acts 13:16 that Gentiles who were called “God-fearers” also attended synagogue and were devout but not necessarily on a “track” to convert, and God-fearing Gentiles, although they likely shared some religious and lifestyle practices with the Jewish people, were not considered Jewish or members of the covenants as were born Jews or the “devout converts to Judaism.”

Paul was specifically selected to fulfill the following mandate:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV)

Apostle-Paul-PreachesBut how was he supposed to do that, exactly? I know, based on your understanding of the Bible and the last two-thousand years of Christian and Jewish history, you think the answer is obvious (although that answer isn’t the same for everyone), but it wasn’t actually that clear-cut back in the day.

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.

Acts 15:1-2 (NRSV)

There seemed to be a disagreement, even among the Jewish disciples within the Way, as to just how to integrate the Gentiles. As we can see here, there were some Jewish people who advocated for the Gentiles to become devout converts to Judaism. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with that opinion. It took a decision by James and the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem to settle the matter, but even then, it wasn’t really settled (It was before God but not, apparently, before men).

When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”

Acts 21:20-25 (NRSV)

“After I had returned to Jerusalem and while I was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw Jesus saying to me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And while the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing by, approving and keeping the coats of those who killed him.’ Then he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Up to this point they listened to him, but then they shouted, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.”

Acts 22:17-22 (NRSV)

up_to_jerusalemAs we can see, even after the declaration by the Council about the status of Gentiles in the Jewish Yeshua (Jesus) movement, it appeared to be very confusing to even thousands of Jewish believers, all zealous for the Torah, just exactly what Paul was teaching to the Jewish and Gentile disciples in the diaspora. Was he teaching Jews to abandon Torah? Was he teaching uncircumcised Gentiles to observe Torah like the Jews? Paul appears to deny both allegations. Jews didn’t have a problem with what Paul taught about the Torah and Messiah. They only had a problem with the Gentiles being included without being circumcised and made to convert to Judaism!

It seems that the easiest thing for Paul to have done and the least dangerous way for him to fulfill his mission, was to enact the Matthew 28:19-20 mandate by converting Gentile disciples to Judaism! It would have solved all or at least most of his problems among the Jewish people. It would have been completely consistent with the practices of other branches of Judaism in his day. No one would have batted an eye.

So why didn’t he do that?

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Acts 10:44-48 (NRSV)

If Peter thought that Cornelius and his Gentile household should be made to convert in order to enter into the Messianic movement, between the Gentiles receiving the Spirit and baptism by water, the males should have been circumcised. But he didn’t order this to be done. We have no record in the Bible that this was ever done to Cornelius, the males in his household, or any of the male Gentile disciples of the Messiah (you may disagree based on Timothy, but remember that Titus was a specific example of a Gentile not being circumcised, see Galatians 2:3).

Peter presented his experiences with Cornelius as legal testimony in the Acts 15 proceedings.

The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Acts 15:6-11 (NRSV)

Peter saw first hand how Gentiles had their hearts cleansed by faith and received the Holy Spirit, even as the Jews did, but were not required to be circumcised and take on the full weight of the Torah in the manner of the Jews (for my opinion on the full implications of the Acts 15 decision on the Gentile disciples, see my multi-part Return to Jerusalem series).

john-the-naziriteMost Christians believe that what Paul did was to abandon the Torah and teach other Jews to do so, as well as teaching the Gentiles that grace replaced the Law. Paul denied this during multiple legal hearings and I don’t believe he was lying. Some people believe that Paul obligated the Gentile disciples to the full weight of the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews without requiring them to convert, but my understanding of the NT record makes this unlikely as well (For more on this, see The Evidence of Luke and The Evidence of Acts 15).

It is also apparent, although it would have been the easiest option for Paul to use, that he did not require the Gentiles to convert to Judaism in order to become members of “the Way.” If that were his tactic, then I seriously believe very few Gentiles would have gone that route, which would have severely inhibited if not stopped cold dead the spread of the good news of the Jewish Messiah among the Gentiles.

Go to Acts 15:30-31 to find the statement supporting how the Gentiles felt about not having to be circumcised and not being obligated to take on the full weight of the Law which, as Peter said, was “a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear.” To force the full yoke of Torah upon the Gentile disciples, Peter said, would be “putting God to the test.” which, as we’ve already learned, is a “no-no.”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Luke 4:12 (Deut. 6:16)

It might have been easier on Paul and easier on the Jewish people involved in “the Way” to have accepted a message of the good news that included Gentiles actually converting to Judaism, but I don’t think that’s what God wanted. From what I can tell, it would have severely inhibited mass Gentile adoption of faith in Messiah, if circumcision of the males and full adherence to the Law were necessary. It’s interesting to note that if those were indeed requirements, we probably wouldn’t have anything called “Christianity” today and we might even have (although this is debatable) a branch of Judaism that continued to worship a first century Rabbi/Prophet as Moshiach. If that were the case, Gentiles would be welcome to join that faith only if they were willing to convert, but otherwise, they would not be considered full members.

Given how few Gentiles convert to Judaism in the world today, how would the whole world be taught the good news of Messiah, come to faith, and believe? How would the Matthew 28:19-20 mandate be fulfilled?

Struggles in Diversity

Apostle-Paul-PreachesAs early as the Jerusalem church, there was linguistic diversity, as likely reflected in the Acts depiction of ‘Hebrews’ and ‘Hellenists,’ terms which probably designate respectively those Jews in the Jerusalem church whose first language was Aramaic and those whose first/primary language was Greek. Also, Paul’s deployment of the little ‘Marana tha’ formula in 1 Corinthians 16:22 is commonly taken as reflecting his acquaintance with Aramaic-speaking circles of Jewish believers, as distinguished from the Greek-speaking (gentile) congregations to whom he wrote.

Moreover, remarkably early there was also a trans-local diversity. In Acts we have reports of the young Christian movement quickly spreading from Jerusalem other sites in Jewish Palestine, to Damascus, Antioch and Samaria, and through the activities of Paul and others (often anonymous) spreading through various locations in Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and elsewhere. Though the historicity of some features of Acts has been challenged, it is commonly accepted that there was an early and rapid trans-local spread of the young Christian movement to locations such as these. It is to be expected that this remarkably rapid spread of the Christian movement would have been accompanied by diversity, Christian circles taking on something of the character of the various locales, and also the varying ethnic groups and social classes from which converts came.

Larry Hurtado
from pre-publication typescript of his article Interactive Diversity (PDF), pp 7-8
As published in Journal of Theological Studies.
“Interactive Diversity: A Proposed Model of Christian Origins.”
The Journal of Theological Studies 2013; doi: 10.1093/jts/flt063

I tend to think of the early Messianic (Christian) movement as having started out as a single, unified entity and then at some point, splitting into divergent trajectories. I just found out, thanks to reading the above-referenced Hurtado essay, that there is a “‘trajectories’ model of early Christian developments introduced by James Robinson and Helmut Koester.” I think it’s what many Christians think about when they consider the origin and development of our faith from the first century CE forward.

In the Abstract of his essay (pg 1), Hurtado states:

The earliest model of Christian origins appears in certain ancient church fathers, who posited an initial and unified form of Christianity from which a subsequent diversity then flowed, including alleged heretical divergences from the putatively original form.

That sounds terrifically familiar.

But it isn’t necessarily so.

As the quote from Hurtado at the top of the page states, we can expect a certain diversity between Aramaic/Hebrew and Greek speaking Jews was established from the very beginning (see Acts 6:1). Hurtado also brings out how there very well could have been “trans-local” variations in the Christian populations in the diaspora based on ethnicity and social class as well as language and nationality. However I’m interested in exploring one slice of the pie, so to speak:

On the other hand, there are also indications of far more adversarial interactions as well, and at a very early date. Paul’s letter to the Galatians will serve to illustrate this. Exegetes are agreed that this epistle reflects Paul’s exasperation over unidentified other Christians (probably Jewish) who have visited the Galatian churches calling into question the adequacy of Paul’s gospel and urging his gentile converts to compete their conversion by circumcision and a commitment to Torah-observance. Paul represents these people as proclaiming ‘a different gospel . . . confusing you and seeking to pervert the gospel of Christ’ (Gal 1:6-7), and he thunders an anathema on anyone who proclaims a gospel contrary to that which he preached (1:9).

-Hurtado, pp 10-11

jewish-sand-paintingThis is actually a key point that my Pastor and I regularly discuss. His opinion is that Paul had been teaching both the Jewish and Gentile disciples in the Galatian area against circumcision and Torah observance, while my position is that Paul did not require circumcision and Torah observance for the Gentile believers, but they were a “given” for the Jewish disciples.

We can see a few things from Hurtado. One is that he (and other “exegetes” or textual interpreters of the Galatians scriptures) believes that certain people, which Paul identifies as “false brothers” (probably Jewish) were invading the churches in Galatia and questioning the validity of Paul’s teaching. The second point is that said-false brothers were encouraging the Gentile disciples that they had to be circumcised and take on board full observance of the Torah, and Paul refers to that teaching as a “different gospel,” one this is “contrary to the gospel of Christ.”

The specific focus upon the Gentiles by the false brothers and Paul’s response tells us that in not being circumcised (i.e. having converted to Judaism), the Gentile believers were not obligated to the full weight of Torah obligation. It also tells us by contrast, that the Jewish disciples (born Jews and those Gentiles who previously converted to Judaism) were obligated to observe the mitzvot. Paul defines this “diversity” between the Jewish and Gentile believers he’s addressing in his letter as the “gospel of Christ” and any attempt to change that relationship, Paul says is a perversion of Christ’s gospel.

(As an aside, I recently read a criticism stating that Gentile conversion to Judaism is not supported Biblically and is an extra-Biblical anomaly introduced by the later Rabbis. However, a quick reading of Acts 13:43 shows how Paul and Barnabas encountered such converts in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch [they probably found converts to Judaism in any synagogue they visited, but this is the first example I could find]. To the degree that Luke doesn’t record any displeasure or complaint by Paul at meeting with the converts in this verse, and I don’t believe we see Paul objecting to the authenticity of “righteous converts” to Judaism elsewhere in the New Testament [the exception is in Galatians, when Paul objects to Gentiles converting to Judaism specifically in order to be justified], we cannot automatically infer that either he or “the Bible” object to or invalidate such a practice.)

The diversity of Jewish and Gentile believers relative to Torah observance and related issues are points I’ve been attempting to assert, both in my personal interactions with my Pastor and here on my blog. I bring Hurtado’s work into the mix as a way of illustrating that this discussion exceeds the bounds of what we call “Messianic Judaism” or any interest in a Hebraic interpretation of the New Testament, and is of scholarly interest in the far wider arena of general Christian studies.

(I should say at this point that this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Hurtado and Galatians on my blog.)

I’ve never been convinced that the Jewish and Gentile disciples ever “cemented” into a single, unified body of worship, at least not on a large scale. I believe that the “Jesus movement” was too young and was forming in too turbulent a world to allow for a widespread integration of populations. In just a tiny march of years after Paul wrote his Galatian letter, he would be arrested, testify at multiple legal hearings, eventually be transported to Rome, and ultimately  be executed. Jerusalem would fall and the Temple would be razed. The Jewish people, including disciples of Jesus, would be scattered. The troubled and frail unity between the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master would crumble like ash in such an inflammatory environment.

The diversity of the early Jesus movement was based on a significant number of differences between varying bodies of disciples. Not all believing Jews supported Gentile entry into the way without conversion (see Acts 15:1-2 for example). Even after the halachah issued by James and the Council of Apostles (Acts 15), divisiveness continued. Many Jews said Paul could not be trusted and that he did not support and affirm the Torah of Moses for the diaspora Jews (Acts 21:21). There were even accusations that he was taking Gentiles past the Court of the Goyim into the Temple (Acts 21:28-29).

paul-editedWhile Paul fought strenuously to keep the fragmented and unstable populations within the body of Messiah together, it was a losing battle. He even admitted that Israel would be calloused because of the Gentiles for a significant period of time (Romans 11:25), and Hurtado points to Romans 14:1-15:6 as Paul’s attempt to address the social and ethnic differences between varying groups of Jesus believers, trying to draw them alongside each other.

I know I’m painting a rather dismal picture of Jewish/Christian relations, both past and present. In his letter to Rome, Paul was writing of a temporary separation between Jewish and Gentile believers. Temporary means that one day, we will draw closer to each other again (or for the first time). I see some evidence of that today, but it’s only the beginning. I don’t doubt that Messiah will come and it will be he who finishes the work that was started so many centuries before.

But my message for today is that a certain amount of diversity between Jewish and Gentile believers is by design. The gospel taught by Paul supported Jewish continuance in Torah observance but did not require Gentiles to convert, which would have made them obligated to the Law (the implication is that Gentile disciples in the Way were not so obligated). Any teaching imposing circumcision and Torah observance on Gentile disciples was vehemently criticized and opposed by Paul.

Hurtado doesn’t attempt to predict the mechanism of how the diversity will be resolved and for the moment, neither will I. I simply write this to offer further evidence that such diversity between the Jewish and Gentile believers did exist and that it is substantiated not only within Messianic Jewish studies but within mainstream Christian scholarship as well.

Addendum: I wrote this meditation before last night’s (Wednesday, June 26th) conversation with my Pastor. I’ll blog about our discussion including how it may impact what I said above in a subsequent missive.